Power at its most refined is less about force and more about discipline and restraint.
Saturday night's IRIS Orchestra concert at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre proved this at every level.
And there are few examples of that as vivid as the extraordinary violinist Gil Shaham, whose breathtaking rendition of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major was a work of virtuosity.
Shaham frequently visits Memphis, and he previously performed the Brahms with IRIS in 2004. Back then I wrote that he coaxed magic from his Stradivarius. This time around, the magic remained and was made even more compelling by the violinist's maturity.
Brahms knew the sound he wanted and didn't much concern himself with the demands on the player. Shaham's emotive playing seamlessly nailed the brio and double stops Brahms wanted. Just as impressive were the quietest passages, played as if the strings were gossamer. The softest notes, barely there, were still perfectly formed and fully expressive.
The orchestra brought a similar sensibility to the other works in the concert.
Frank Martin's 1949 piece Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Percussion and Strings was a bracing work of vigor and nuance, brought to life by several solos from orchestra members. Each performed with that beguiling combination of control and intelligence, coaxing remarkable beauty from each instrument.
It's worth mentioning the players: Todd Skitch on flute, Richard Dallessio on oboe, Bill Kalinkos on clarinet, Adrian Morejon on bassoon, Kristi Crago on French horn, Louis Hanzlik on trumpet, R. Douglas Wright on trombone and Brian Kushmaul on percussion.
Also on the program was Sibelius' Symphony No. 3, which maestro Michael Stern said was infrequently performed. This is a bit of a mystery. It's a terrific work that focuses less on a grand theme with lots of power and more on a variety of wonderfully presented expressions.
There were elements of hymns, folk music, rousing tunes and melodies in a smart and economical mix of the dramatic and sentimental.
In all, three remarkable and varied works, and all a triumph for Stern and the IRIS Orchestra.